Slicer in 3D Printing: Definition, Features, and How it Works
Learn about the role that slicer software plays in 3D printing.
3D printing slicer software is fast becoming a buzzword in the world of 3D printing. The overall functionality of a 3D printer depends on it. Without the slicer, a printer would not be capable of rendering a product from the underlying CAD design.
This article will provide an in-depth understanding of what 3D printing slicer software is and how it works.
A slicer is a piece of 3D printing software that acts as a link between the digital model (generated on a computer) and the actual model (constructed by the 3D printer itself). The 3D printing slicer software transforms the digital model into printing instructions, called G-code. These instructions are fed to the printer, which in response begins the build process until the object is complete.
For more information, see our guide on 3D printing.
3D printing slicer software works by taking a set of inputs and converting them into a form that the 3D printer can understand and optimize. All the information related to a 3D printer, such as material specifications, layer height, and extruder type, is first inputted into the slicer. The digital model is then imported into the slicer. Depending on the CAD software used, the designed model comes is represented in different file formats such as .STL (the most common), .3DF, .OBJ, and .AMF. Scaling and alignment options are also included in the software. These capabilities allow smaller or larger versions of the models to be produced. Finally, the slicer is ready to calculate and divide the digital part into 2D layers.
A slicer acts as a middleman between a 3D CAD model—which will be saved in one of the file formats, particularly STL—and the 3D printer. As the name suggests, a slicer performs the role of slicing the 3D model. It determines how each layer of the sliced model should be printed, and the tool path that the printer needs to follow to correctly print a given layer of the model.
3D slicers have the following distinctive attributes or features:
- Accept DICOM and Other Formats of Images: DICOM (digital imaging and communication) is a standard employed by the medical industry to store, transmit, handle, and print information in medical imaging. A DICOM file is obtained from CT, or computed tomography, scans of various parts of the human body and can be converted into STL file formats which the 3D printing slicer software can process.
- 2D and 3D Visualization of Transforms: In the 3D printing slicer software, it is possible to have a 2D and 3D visualization of the digital model. The 3D model can be split into 2D slices that can be viewed in different anatomical directions known as: the coronal, axial, and sagittal planes. The XYZ spatial configuration is sufficiently able to interpret these planes.
- Registration and Interactive Segmentation of Image/Data: The user interface of the 3D printing slicer software has extensive sets of tools required for image fusion tasks or registration. The functionalities include manual and automated image alignment. Image warping is also possible.
3D slicer software is used in the conversion of CAD models in .STL file formats or any other file formats such as .3DF and .OBJ to a set of commands that the printer can understand. Most 3D printers come with their own 3D printing slicer software. However, there is other third-party software like Chitubox that can be adapted to most printers. Below are some examples of 3D slicer software:
- Cura Slicer Software: Cura is a popular 3D printing slicer that is compatible with many 3D printers. The 3D printer company, Ultimaker, developed this software, and it is completely free and open source. Cura supports most 3D file extension formats including .OBJ, .X3D, .STL, and .3MF. Cura is easy to use and is perfect for both beginners and professionals.
- Creality Slicer Software: The Creality slicer is 3D printing software that is based on the Cura software made by Ultimaker. At first glance, it looks like Cura except for differentiating features in the design. It is made specifically for Creality 3D printers including the Ender-3 version. However, for compatibility with other printers, blank profiles have to be created. At the moment, Creality is compatible with Windows.
- Chitubox Slicer Software: Chitubox slicer software was designed by the Chinese Company CBD-Tech. This third-party software is compatible with most resin-based 3D printers such as DLP, SLA, and LCD. Chitubox works well with various file formats.
- ideaMaker Slicer Software: ideaMaker is slicing software developed by Raise3D. It is specialized software made for Raise3D printers. Nonetheless, the ideaMaker slicer has been optimized to work in a variety of FDM printers found in the market today.
- Simplify3D: The Simplify3D slicer works well with almost every printer, although you have to pay to use it. The 3D printing slicer software was made especially for pro users. Simplify3D is compatible with many 3D printing profiles, and if a specific model is not on the list, it can easily be added rather than switching to new slicer software.
For more information, see our guide on the Best Slicer Software for 3D Printing.
3D printing slicer software comes with a range of 3D graphics area elements which are listed below:
- Support Brim: A brim is a material that is made of a few concentric layers. These are attached to the edges of the 3D model and extend from the print bed. It is part of the support structure in a 3D printing process. A brim keeps the print in place while the printer works on the part. As a result, a brim prevents warping and ensures that the contact with the build plate is rigid.
- Support Raft: A 3D printing support raft is a flat piece of material that functions as the base support of the print. It is a little bit wider than the first layer of the print. Though similar to the brim, they play different roles. When comparing the raft vs. brim, the raft is always placed beneath the print or object, while the brim goes around it.
A 3D printer can't be used without slicer software because its functionality depends on it. Such printers need the help of a slicer to translate the required information present in the 3D CAD model of the part into a G-code to direct the printer on how to print the part layers effectively.
There are many alternatives to 3D slicers, each with its distinctive features and designs. These include:
- Vesalius3D: Vesalius3D is a 3D printing software noted for its high-quality features. It supports the visualization of anatomical structures, patient-specific structures, etc. The software incorporates an effective management system which proves useful in the medical field. It shows clear and detailed structures as well as a beautiful display of the diagnostic procedures.
- Eliza: Eliza is 3D software that provides a perfect viewing experience for digital imaging and communications (DICOM) in medicine. It helps medical experts obtain detailed views of various organs of the body so that they may do effective research or analytical work. Eliza also comes with features such as edit segmentation and labels, hundreds of filters, and precise measurement capability.
- InVesalius 3: InVesalius 3 is an open-source 3D software made especially for magnetic resonance and computed tomography images. The software is relevant to the medical, educational, and forensic fields.
The 3D model is translated by the 3D slicer software by breaking down the model into a series of 2D layers or slices. The slicer converts them into step-by-step instructions (called G-code) for the printer to follow. It takes note of various geometric and structural aspects of the model. Each slice is sent as individual steps in the operation.
To earn a spot in the 3D printing space, certain skills are needed. In order to develop 3D printing slicing software, familiarity with the G-code language is important. A developed 3D engine is also needed. Various types exist, such as Unreal Engine, Unity eyeshot, etc.
Yes, the quality of a print is affected by the type of slicer used. The selection of a slicer depends on the complexity of the models to be sliced and how they slice. On simpler models, the difference may not be apparent, but more complex designs do reveal changes that can be pointed out.
This article provided a review of the role that slicer software plays in 3D printing. To learn more about 3D printing slicer software and to evaluate how it can be applied to your products, contact a Xometry Representative.
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